‘Under the Dome’: A ludicrous tale enters its second season


Dean Norris as James “Big Jim” Rennie in “Under the Dome.” (BROWNIE HARRIS/CBS)
Hank Stuever
TV critic June 29

The way certain skeptics feel about climate change is the way I feel about the dome — and everything under it.

I just don’t buy “Under the Dome,” on any level. I think the story is a shambles and the concept is dumb. I doubt its worthiness as a hit, and I think Stephen King is a hack.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. View Archive

Nevertheless, I’m open to having my mind changed by the evidence — or the plain testimony of fans who know it’s not fantastic television even as they gobble it up. When it debuted last summer to relatively great ratings, “Under the Dome” (based on a novel by King) was something of a surprise.

Between it and SyFy’s over-the-top “Sharknado” — which became a Twitter sensation no one saw coming — envious network executives started ordering up “limited” “event” series and specials (leaving behind outdated terms such as “made-for-TV movie” and “miniseries”) that are designed to lure viewers who are too jittery to commit to the usual fare. This trend also provides a soft landing for shows that bomb — remember, you were told it was a limited engagement.

All right, whatever. Those poor people of Chester’s Mill, Maine, who were trapped under the dome at the end of Season 1 arestill trapped under it as the series returns Monday night in an episode written by the belletrist King himself.

In case you missed the extraordinarily helpful Cliffs Notes-style recap that aired recently, the town’s control freak, Big Jim (“Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris) had heroic drifter Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) noosed-up and ready to hang from the gallows.

Indeed, things have become so bad under the dome that the townsfolk constructed a gallows to deal with reprobates. (And they’ve been under the dome for only two whole weeks!) Since the mysterious clear dome descended and sealed everyone off from the rest of the world, the story has only partly dwelled on the panicked tendency of the residents to act on their worst instincts.

Instead, “Under the Dome” is a rapidly expanding X-file, preoccupied with supernatural cause and effect.

Four young people, including Big Jim’s son (Alexander Koch), his ex-girlfriend (Britt Robertson), her kid brother (Colin Ford) and a petulant teen (Mackenzie Lintz), discovered they can commune with the dome and have tried to interpret its meaning or intent. They learned about the “pink stars falling” and the weird egg and the monarch butterflies. So far it’s amounted to nothing but a whole lot of running around and shouting “LOOK OUT!!” — and occasional deaths, which are on the uptick in this new episode.

Even if the novel serves as a template, “Under the Dome” often has the quality of making things up on the fly in the grand tradition of shows that like to string viewers along — and viewers who like to be strung along. (They exist!)

In my more accepting moments, I see “Under the Dome” less as a TV show and more as a campfire game in which someone tells a small part of a horror story and then it’s up to the next person to keep the story going, no matter how ludicrously. The actors wear the knowledge on their faces: This may not be the best show they’ve ever worked on, but they’re having a lot of fun doing it, and sometimes that’s good enough.

‘112 Weddings’

Speaking of living in a bubble, a wise person once said that the only people who really know what’s going on in a marriage are the two people in it.

In his intriguing but slow-moving documentary “112 Weddings,” airing Monday night on HBO, filmmaker Doug Block revisits some of the 112 couples whose weddings he was hired to document as a freelance videographer. What became of them? How many are still married? What have they learned about marriage and each other?

For the most part, they’re keeping such details to themselves. Eight couples took Block up on his interview request (plus one engaged couple who’ve hired him to document their upcoming wedding), which turns out to be a barely sufficient sampling.

We meet some couples who are still together and muddling through everyday life, having adjusted the happily-ever-after equation to make room for the children that sapped them of energy and spark, to say nothing of the curveballs (a leukemia diagnosis, a mental illness, an affair) that life had in store.

One woman understandably verges on tears when her husband ruminates honestly on the moments he wishes he wasn’t married; given a chance to respond, she instead swallows and says: “When things are going good, I don’t want to sit and think about when they’re [going] bad.”

Though no one here disparages the wedding-industrial complex, the couples are all well past the point of reliving the glory (and expense) of their nuptial experiences. Perhaps Block is too congenial to really probe; for some reason, there are many circumspect pauses in the film, as if the couples regret letting their videographer back in for an update.

But the documentary has its tender moments — happy and sad — that are worth waiting for. After we’ve watched video clips of her “special day” from 19 years earlier, one woman says: “So here I am, with my granite countertops in Mamaroneck, getting divorced.”

Under the Dome

(one hour) returns Monday at 10 p.m. on CBS.

112 Weddings

(96 minutes) airs Monday on HBO at 9 p.m., with encores.

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